It took place during my search for Ariam's birthmother in a town about 40 minutes outside of Addis Ababa.
My van, filled with key players related to Ariam's story that I had gathered for the day, stopped at the small office of the local ministry of women's affairs. As things generally play out when I'm in Ethiopia (or anywhere in east Africa), I didn't have a clue what was going on.
Maybe I wish I had said no. Maybe I wish I had stayed in the van. But I don't have the option of going back and changing anything about that day.
I watched a mother try to relinquish her son today. I watched him reach up a small hand and hold it to the back of her neck. I watched her reach back reflexively to cover his little fingers, accustomed to their pattern of touch. She didn't realize that while her words said "I need to give him up" her actions said "but I love him, I do."
I watched a mother come to the end of her road, no longer able to walk the path of caring for a son with such obvious challenges ahead.
She stood outside the office door, summoned for her consultation. For an hour the women around her discussed, analyzed, negotiated. Sometimes they would close their circle of voices and leave her on the outside and other times the circle would open and she'd be called back in.
|Pardon her expression - she was sniffing back tears. She wasn't trying to look so angry as far as I could tell.|
This little boy's name is Dani (Daniel.) He was born with Down Syndrome to a mother who has a 6 year old daughter and who recently lost her husband. She is very obviously depressed. The ministry officials say she is "disturbed" but I think they mean depressed. Or maybe they do mean mentally disturbed. I think I would be if I were in her position.
Her husband died, she ran out of money and medicine and brought Dani to relinquish him. The orphanage director I was with was asked to bring her two social workers to the ministry's office to discuss the situation. Her pronouncement was that "there are no adoptive parents who would want this child." They are seeking a sponsor for the family. If you are reading this and feel so moved please leave me a comment. I think sponsorship is about $35/month. The orphanage director is funding the sponsorship for now but her funding is limited. Long term support will be needed if the mother does not abandon Dani.
I asked if sponsorship would make the difference between family preservation and abandonment in this case and they are unsure. Efforts will be made. But the consensus was that most likely the child will be left.
It is one of the biggest tragedies in international adoption - that the children who could most benefit from an adoptive family in a resource rich country like the U.S. will most likely not be the ones who get adopted. When I told the orphanage director that I thought some families in the U.S. might be interested in adopting a child with Down Syndrome she looked shocked and skeptical. That has not been her experience. Our daughter was the only child she's ever seen adopted after being diagnosed with a medical need. She could not take Dani and risk having to raise him in her orphanage for 18+ years.
So he will be left at the doors of the ministry most likely. Because apparently that is what happens in cases like this. And I have no idea what will happen to him then. I assume he will disappear over time. Or he will remain with his birth mother and disappear over time unless she gets a lot more support to keep him and care for him.
I'm asked often how I feel about Ethiopian adoptions. I really have no answers, only complicated stories.
*It was agreed by all that I would take photos and post them online. The photos above don't quite capture the situation but I could not bring myself to photograph some of the more intense moments.